— Bob Newhart
Comedian and Actor (b. 1929)
By the time today’s edition of our newspaper hits the streets, Bradley County native Karen Mills likely will be well into her “message” at the third annual Breast Cancer Survivors Luncheon in the DeVos Recreation Center on the Lee University campus.
The midday meal and words of inspiration are a key part of the two-day finale for “Volley for a Cure 2011,” a fundraising and education campaign that is enjoying its fifth big year as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “Volley” not only makes people aware, it also raises money for the MaryEllen Locher Scholarship Fund which provides invaluable financial support to students in secondary education whose parents have been impacted by breast cancer.
In today’s times, it is difficult to find a family whose loved ones have not felt the pain — or at the very least, the scare — of breast cancer. I count myself among them. It hit my two elder siblings and me hard by taking our mother six years ago. It also stole the life of a good friend and former neighbor.
Those are the disease’s casualties. Thankfully, the stories of survival are far more plentiful. Breakthroughs in medical technology can be thanked, as well as an unsung number of agencies that make it their business to promote the public’s understanding while raising needed funds for research.
The MaryEllen Locher Scholarship Fund — named in memory of a former WTVC NewsChannel 9 anchor and reporter who fought her own battles with this merciless predator — is one such organization. The fund is supported by a variety of causes, one of which is “Volley for a Cure” whose birth came five years ago when Lee Lady Flames volleyball head coach Andrea Hudson paved the way for her young athletes to get involved in the community.
It was an endearing brainstorm then. It is an even bigger, and better, idea now.
As everyone knows, early detection and preventive screenings, are the key in beating cancer — whether breast, colon, prostate or others. Perhaps one day medical science will score the inevitable slam-dunk with a cure-all that the human race knowingly deserves.
Until then, you have to like the mindset of today’s keynote speaker. I interviewed Karen earlier this week by telephone just to get a perspective on how a professional standup comedienne addresses a crowd about such a serious illness. I wanted to know her message in advance.
She chuckled with a warmth.
And then I understood. From the get-go, I liked this lady and her spunky attitude.
“There’s no message, really,” Karen told me. “I do some motivational speaking, but this is about laughing. That is the message ... the importance of humor in our lives. Stress can kill you.”
Amen to that, sister.
Ironically enough, this former high school and college basketball superstar — an alumnus of the Bradley Central High School Bearettes and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Lady Mocs — believes an audience of cancer survivors laughs the loudest, howls the longest and basks most deeply in the moment compared to most.
Her reasoning is founded upon a common-sense approach.
“There’s no better audience than breast cancer survivors,” Karen declared. “They have an appreciation for life that others do not. They’re just happy to be here. They know how precious life is. There’s just no better audience.”
She should know. Karen has worked breast cancer audiences dozens of times in every conceivable corner of America. Over the years she has become a well-traveled veteran who doesn’t fear laughing in the face of incredible odds. Maybe that’s why audiences love her.
Karen’s comic side falls right in place with another facet of “Volley for a Cure” that tickles the funny bone. Wrapping up its second big year, event organizers call it the “Flamingo Flock,” a lighthearted way of enhancing the front lawns of friends and loved ones with an army of pink love — compliments of anywhere from 10 to 60 or more pink flamingo figurines. For a fee based on requested numbers, volunteer “flockers” place the spindly-legged ornaments under the cloaking darkness of midnight and return late the following day for retrieval and further deployment.
Had I remembered to ask her opinion about flocking, Karen likely would have called it a “blast,” as she did her excitement at working today’s Cleveland audience.
“I am really looking forward to it,” she stressed. “I can’t wait. I know it’ll be a great time.”
Speaking of great times, “Volley 2011” closes with its grand finale Friday. It’s called “Paint the Town Pink Day” and it starts at 4 p.m. at Paul Dana Walker Arena with a silent auction, a High School Volleyball Showcase at 5 p.m., a “Pink Party” at 5:45, and a “Pack the Stands Pink” event at 6:45; and this all leads to the big volleyball match between the pink-clad teams of Lee’s fourth-ranked Lady Flames and the Lady Tigers of Brenau.
Your only price is fun.
And perhaps a donation from the heart.